DN offensive line, special teams improving
Much was made of a Humboldt-Del Norte Big 5 League game played some 90 miles south of Crescent City.
The Arcata High Tigers seized control at Fortuna High early and never let up, winning 36-12 on Sept. 15 to become one of two Big 5 League teams with a 1-0 record. Arcata intercepted five passes and recovered two fumbles in the victory.
The Del Norte Warriors are the other team. Del Norte dispatched McKinleyville, 28-6, on Sept. 15 behind three touchdown passes from Dylan Pease and opportunistic defensive play (two fumbles recovered).
Word of Arcata’s victory reached Warriors head coach Ray Rook shortly after the conclusion of the McKinleyville game.
“A lot of people are picking Arcata to win the league,” he said. “I’ve seen them — they look good. (The Fortuna result) was not a surprise.”
On Friday night — Del Norte’s Homecoming game — many eyes figure to be on the opposing team as well as the newly crowned king and queen.
“Even though we’re 1-0 and both tied for first, we’re on our own up here,” Rook said.
Arcata (3-1 overall) runs a wing-T offensive system predicated on getting a pair of standout running backs — “thunder” back Aleric Stone and “lightning” back Tyler Keil — enough running room to do damage.
“They’re as good up front as they are with the two running backs,” Rook said. “They have a lot of athleticism.”
Del Norte will also have its eye on Tigers tight end Connor Cox, a preferred target on play-action passes and other routes designed to test the middle of opposing defenses.
“He’s definitely a threat for them,” Rook said. “They want to set that up.”
The Warriors have steadily improved in each game this season, playing “as a team, almost 100 percent better than the week before,” against McKinleyville, according to Rook. This included a welcome boost in special teams against the Panthers, as Del Norte made all four of its extra points and enjoyed a strong punting performance from junior Aaron Fitch.
“One of our strengths of the last few years has been special teams,” Rook said. “I don’t want to say that we’ve taken it for granted, but we’ve had to with a grain of salt do more work on it.”
The Warriors may have hit their nadir two weeks ago in their win over Healdsburg, committing false start penalties on all three of their extra-point attempts. Rook has also been hesitant to attempt field goals early in the season due to protection struggles and kicker performance but has seen improvement in that facet of Del Norte’s game.
Rook is also pleased with the progress from his offensive line, which had perhaps its best game of the season against McKinleyville.
“The pass protection was way better (against the Panthers),” he said. “It’s still not (all the way) there, but a lot more consistent.”